In this week last year the top of the table looked like this:
Arsenal going along nicely, Mourinho not cutting loose, AVB a-grinding, Joe Hart a-flapping and a Suarez-free Liverpool eking out results. Amongst these familiar names, unheralded Southampton had made a promising start, the highlight being a good performance and win at Anfield. At this point they were producing a strong set of underlying figures but beyond the Liverpool fixture had faced a kindly schedule for a team that would go on to show itself as clearly above average.
This year, they lost that same fixture at Liverpool and have shown greater finesse in their finishing when beating a succession of average to sub-par teams. Their away form has been better and they've restricted teams effectively more than once but the goal and shot stats speak thus:
They are performing better. But the difference is slight. Both shot rates for and against are pretty comparable. Their scoring early this season is being powered by a high conversion rate, their defence early last season was powered by the opposition's poor conversion rate:
|Conversion Rate %||For||Against|
None of this is designed to denigrate their performances so far this year, it's just I feel the likelihood of Southampton being the 6th, 7th or 8th best team in the league is still notably higher than the possibility that they are better than that & I think these comparisons show this. Their underlying statistics are very good in relation to the rest of the league but I have a suspicion that this is partially due to their schedule and partially due to the continued underperformance of rival teams. They are also relying heavily on key men such as Tadic and Pelle; two players in very good form and their continued fitness is of paramount importance for this relatively small squad.
Intriguingly, imminent fixtures are unlikely to change the general positive opinion of Southampton. Beyond visiting their former coach, Pochettino at Tottenham next weekend, they don't face a fundamentally tricky fixture until the last week of November. It is very likely that they will still be high in the table by then. However, a run including Man City, Arsenal, Man Utd, Everton, Chelsea and Arsenal again between then and New Year's Day will define whether they are able to match and exceed teams likely to be around them such as Tottenham, Everton and maybe Liverpool.
Last season Arsenal spent significant parts of the year missing vital players and it cost them any chance of actually challenging for the league, a possibility that was very real (despite underlying statistics) at the turn of the year. This year, despite better looking numbers, they've drawn 4 of 6, lost Giroud and Debuchy long term already and now Ramsey, Arteta and probably Wilshire are likely casualties from the Tottenham game.
If this didn't happen every year you'd call it unlucky & one wonders exactly what it is that makes Arsenal's squad so consistently brittle & why they are unable to remedy the frequency of their extensive maladies.
- Mile 'The Wall' Jedinak scored again & hit a routine 9 T&Is. Player of the Year awards await.
- Tadic, so key for Southampton: Woodwork, an assist, 6 shots, 3 dribbles & 7T&Is.
- Rafael bombing on with an assist from 2 KPs, 5 dribbles & 7T&Is.
- Willian: 5 shots, 4 KPs and a goal and an assist from them.
- Drinkwater had the week high 11 T&Is.
- Sterling powered some of Balotelli's 10 shots with 6KPs & had 4 shots & 5 dribbles himself.
- Dorrans enjoyed playing Burnley; as 2 assists, a goal, 4 shots & 3 dribbles show.
- Man City shared their offensive work all around their attackers, which was nice and democratic of them.
- JAGIELKA because, Jagielka!
Is a draw a good result?
It's tricky to get a handle on this match. There seems to be a fair split amongst the fan base between people who are happy that we set up with a defensive, counter attacking outlook, created some clear chances and had a good chance to win and people (like myself) who preferred it when in previous years we took the game more to Arsenal and went toe-to-toe with them on ability rather than setting up with a strategic defensive plan. Arsenal weren't a team that walked through us last year; the two games both finished 0-1 and, to my mind, Tottenham had the better of the play and looked tactically better prepared;this despite the second match being under the guidance of Tim Sherwood. Yesterday, each team looked tactically well prepared but Arsenal looked like the superior outfit. Given that, the 1-1 seems a better result for Tottenham but also feels like another reflection of a slightly lesser level of ability to which we have seen in previous years.
Well, after 6 games, this is where Tottenham rank in the league for a few metrics:
^All this adds up to a whole lot of average, which is reflected both by the W-D-L record of 2-2-2 and the subsequent league position. I can only hope that some confidence can be drawn from the general efficiency of & positive reaction to the Arsenal result. What better time for Pochettino's former charges at Southampton to visit & test their both their own and Tottenham's credentials?
Thanks for reading!
Check back next week for more high quality content.
In the pipeline, and indeed edging ever closer, is a continental-based player piece; i've built some graphs and tables and have now got to put it all together with some words... COMING SOON, so it is.